Review by EPoetker
"The definitive review for my #1 favorite game..."
This is now and will always be my favorite game of all time. No amount of comparison to the same genre, nitpicking, or flaming can change that. It is an absolute masterpiece in every single category one could possibly list. As it is, I shall list them all...
Usually I start with graphics, but now I'd like to take a moment to savor the intricacies of the story. To all those people who mash the X button as soon as text comes up, you are missing a tale of truly epic proportions. C.S. Lewis once told of a police state, where the ''history'' taught was ''duller than the truest history you've ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.'' The story of Final Fantasy Tactics in itself deals with that kind of history(as written by the state)while its characters go through experiences that, while fantasy, have real truth lying just below the surface, which a little delving soon reveals. More than any other video game I've seen, Final Fantasy Tactics is, at its core, about REALITY. In an unfortunate move by Square, the translation of the story was rushed(as usual) so one has to read carefully to grasp the full import of what the writers were trying to say. Anyway, the story begins with...a princess being kidnapped. Not the most original way to begin a video game, but very soon threads of state, religion, friendship, good, evil, and power are all woven in. Some have erroneously said that Tactics only deals with political intrigue, but that would ignore the enormous depth of characterization brought out in the NUMEROUS cast of characters. There are many, many players in this story, much more than even a strategy RPG would normally have, and ALL have distinctive personalities. And, as in real life, sometimes you sympathize with the good, other times you root for what appears to be evil. However, the ambivalence one feels gradually lessens as the climactic battle nears, ever so slowly polarizing the two sides until the question of good and evil has been answered before it has been asked. However, I can still guarantee that the ending will shake you to the core, more than any other video game ending I have seen. BTW, this is one of the few games which I have seen which has dealt with church history in a serious and nonbiased fashion. All those Christians who think that fantasy is of the devil should take a good look at this one...
...then marvel at the music. Why had I not heard of Hitoshi Sakimoto and Masaharu Iwata until this moment? The two composers have single-handedly managed to come up with the BEST music EVER heard in videogames! When my somewhat jaded ears were first exposed to the opening theme, I thought...how beautiful...but they can't possibly keep making original, inspiring songs for the full length of this game...I was WRONG, and for once in my life, I was GLAD. EXCEEDINGLY glad. It's almost indescribable, getting such a perfect orchestration on a synthesizer(yes, they ARE using a synthesizer, and a darned good one, too!) Let's go over a few categories:
Random battles: Four different selections, each perfectly fitting the ''random'' concept. There's something very ''nature-y'' about these themes. They generally start off very softly, then slowly build...and build...till the crescendo of chord heights has been reached. Others choose to go with one theme and then ever so cautiously segue into another one, which greatly reduces the boredom factor. To sum it up, you really don't mind hearing these pieces over again. Seriously, if I had to have a song stuck in my head, I would much rather have something beautiful, like ''Random Waltz,'' rather than something which just jars the senses, like...most popular music!(Okay, I don't listen to that much of it anyway. But still...)
Yes, this deserves its own category as well, if for nothing else than the full, rich melody that plays when you select ''Brave Story.'' It can almost bring you to tears if you listen to it closely enough.
Here's where it varies a little, but the same masterful orchestration is brought heavily to bear, whether it's a spooky underground tune, the super-tense ''chase'' beats, or some of the more grim-sounding themes that seem to play more often when the odds are firmly against you. Great stuff!
Talking to people:
Normally, RPGs play some generic tune when engaging in conversations, or even worse, just go on with whatever music was previously playing until the actual fights start. Not so here! A simple conversation with characters has such wonderful harmonies lavished on such a small scene that it almost makes you want to go through the scene that much more slowly(a good thing, because a story like this requires in-depth comprehension to understand fully. Stupid translators.)
In the end, however, my modest power of description is futile, and the music must still be heard to be truly appreciated. You were waiting for something?
Now on to the category that can make or break a game(no matter how much fun it is)GRAPHICS! Watch the opening movie again. Naaah...don't, I don't like to base everything on really good CG sequences. Watch the game from the point the princess appears praying in the church to the end of chapter one. Note how EVERY area in which you fight or talk is drawn down to the last detail. Note how the lush battlefield settings perfectly match the mood which the music attempts to convey. And take a look at your fighters, who, despite having no mouth and no nose, (battlefield sprite, not close-up picture) manage to convey emotion and expression with every stab and dodge. They were not made that way by accident, this was a calculated move. And when you DO get characters important to the advancement of the game's story(Mustadio, Agrias, etc.) their expression and demeanor on the face close-ups perfectly matches their temperament and fighting style. This is a great example of how graphics SHOULD be done, to serve the purpose of the game's story and music, not to eclipse them with too many unimportant yet flashy CG sequences. Excellent, excellent work!
Now, on to the most important category of all! GAMEPLAY!!!! Finally, Square has managed to make fun what was previously boring drudgery! RANDOM BATTLES! If you played through Vandal Hearts just wishing for a few of those, FFT's got them for you by the truckload. But why so many? Because of the new, improved JOB SYSTEM! Essentially, it boils down to this: You get JP(Job Points) in addition to experince points whenever you hit an enemy or cast a spell. These points, when added up, give you new abilities in your current job and add a whole new element of strategy(should I save up for the really cool ability or get all the slightly cool abilities right now?) But the REALLY fun thing is that you can research abilities which can be used in other Jobs. Have fun equipping your Knight with Summon Magic! However, to prevent this from getting out of hand, the stats for each job are altered, making the combination mentioned above a little problematic until you get some other abilities. This is one reason why so many people get wasted early on, they didn't bother to learn the system. But once you do, the fun just goes on and on...until the incredibly intelligent AI finds a way to smack you down. I've seen the computer make stupid decisions in Shining Force and in Vandal Hearts(don't have your sorcerer cast Blaze on the hero, have him do a physical attack! He's close by, isn't he?), but somebody finally installed a brain into this one. You'll swear that there's a human playing on the other end, judging by how the computer makes good use of all classic battle strategies straight from the beginning. (My friend's a marine, and when he played this, he recognized a whole bunch of formations that he had been taught in military school.) The ONLY way to prevent getting walked all over is to either have a stronger team(i.e. level up) or a BETTER team(different Job specifications.) Usually, it's the latter. Strategy...Tactics...the meat of those words is ALL here. Understand the Job system, and you will have LOADS of fun...
Miscellaneous/extras: All RPGs should have these, and FFT is no slouch. You can go on side missions as soon as you begin Chapter 2, sending parties of soldiers out to search for gold, secret items, or undiscovered countries. (Also a great way to gain JP for inactive soldiers.)And right in the middle of Chapter 4, there's a HUGE side quest which eventually opens up a HUGE Deep Dungeon, which holds oodles of treasure and an extremely cool secret...read the Faq for details...Hidden moves, items which can only be gained through theft, monsters which can be motivated to join your party, and a bargeload of secret characters make this one of the longest and most rewarding playing experiences one will remember. What a wonderful game...what a wonderful name...what a wonderful reason to go out and BUY THIS GAME RIGHT NOW! Squaresoft DESERVES the money, don't even think about trying to emulate this one...
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/00, Updated 07/30/00
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